Competitions nos. 153A and 153B: results

Anthony Bertram returns with one of the liveliest competitions for a while. He asks for a poem (two or three stanzas) modelled on Thomas Hood’s ‘Song Of the Shirt’ (which you can read in its entirety here and which begins

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat, in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread–
Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the “Song of the Shirt.”

It’s a poem that has inspired countless images, of which this is just one (by Edward Radford):

Radford Song Of Shirt

However, Bertram wants a poem that mentions the grey (sic) shirts of Mosley, the brown shirts of Hitler, the black shirts of Mussolini, and (the less familiar) red shirts of the Independent Labour Party stewards who followed James Maxton (1885-1946). Maxton had by this time broken with Macdonald, with whom he had been a key force in leaving the First World War coalition (he was a conscientious objector in WWI), and who was highly regarded as a parliamentarian on all sides, and notably by Churchill.

James Maxton

James Maxton

In fact, any other notable shirts were allowed.

hitler brown shirts Mosley and grey shirts blackshirts

William Bliss comes unstuck because he goes for too many shirts. Other big-hitters who fall by the wayside are W. Hodgson Burnet, Lester Ralph and Guy Innes. Many are ticked off for never having read, it would seem, Hood’s poem, or indeed the rules. As Bertram notes, the rhythm is irregular, so plenty of latitude is allowed. The winners are W.R.Y. (‘real emotion’) and E.W. Fordham (‘sustained neatness’).


The B competition takes an extract from an Edmund Blunden poem, The Forefathers, and asks for a parody of footnotes (four) on it. Blunden (1896-1974) had been fortunate to survive the latter part of World War I, and had been a literary success with his own poetry in the 1920s, as well as with his book ‘Undertones of War’. He had also edited selections by Owen and Gurney. 1933 found him teaching at Merton College, Oxford (where his most famous acolyte would be Keith Douglas). One suspects Bertram knew him – it’s unusual for a living, and indeed 37-year-old poet to be made fun of like this.


Here they went with smock and crook,
Toiled in the sun, lolled in the shade,
Here they mudded out the brook
And here their hatchet cleared the glade:
Harvest-supper woke their wit,
Huntsmen’s moon their wooings lit.

(You can read the whole here).

As Bertram says, the results will give Blunden a foretaste of his fate at the hands of scholars. Casson comes close, but Nick and Cuniculus are the winners.


Two great competitions for once – the second one is a great candidate for contemporary setters.


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